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A New Chapter for Quebec Colleges

“At MIT, we are choosing to meet this challenge directly by assessing the educational model that has served the Institute so well for so long. We are experimenting boldly with ideas to enhance the education we offer our own students and to lower the barriers to access for learners around the world.”—MIT President L. Rafael Reif

Higher education is feeling pressure to innovate and this in response to the often-cited globalization effects of international competition and rapid changes in economic and social priorities.

Institutions that are ill-equipped to respond will face the inevitable consequences by jeopardizing their relevance and their viability. In order to facilitate the necessary levels of change college administrations will have to demonstrate unprecedented levels of flexibility and imagination.

College administrations in Quebec spend much of their time responding to the education ministry’s requirements for documentation and compliance. While this preoccupation is largely necessary it has not created an environment noted for innovation and daring initiatives. One example is the absence of significant online learning options across the Quebec college network.

The network is administered hierarchically, the Ministry delegating some of its authority to individual college administrations and these putting the final brush strokes on the operating policies and procedures. Grass-roots initiatives exist but focus mainly on minor details and implementation strategies.

High-tech industries understand the need for a bottom-up approach to designing new products and services. They invest in creating an incubator environment, one which supports, and even seeks out, new ideas that can be developed and brought to fruition. The general tone of administration there is one of supportive leadership rather than of one-way direction.

This is precisely where colleges can, and must, change. An administration which sees itself, and is seen by its faculty and staff, as a support system can thrive in ever-shifting economic and political times.

People know what kind of team they belong to. They will not be fooled by rhetoric, slogans, or mission statements that belie their working reality. Most people want to belong to a winning team that is a leader in its field. This means colleges that are innovating in response to what are clearly fast-changing demands. This means an administration that is ready to make a sharp turn away from the rigid roles, policies,  and college processes that have gone unchallenged; a turn toward a fluid operational environment where administrators are viewed as venture capitalists ready to back their community’s best inventors.

This will require the Ministry to relax its commitment to sameness and understand that equal educational opportunity for all does not necessarily mean the same education for all.

 

Let’s Sleep On It

“The clearest finding is that sleep does not serve just a single purpose. Instead it appears to be needed for the optimal functioning of a multitude of biological processes—from the inner workings of the immune system to proper hormonal balance, to emotional and psychiatric health, to learning and memory, to the clearance of toxins from the brain. At the same time, none of these functions fails completely in the absence of sleep. In general, sleep seems to enhance the performance of these systems instead of being absolutely necessary. And yet anyone who lives for months without sleep will die.”Robert Stickgold, Scientific American, October 2015

Borg Regenerating
Borg Regenerating
Sleep deprivation and the effects of reduced amounts of sleep are now being studied seriously at several universities. According to Robert Stickgold, director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, lack of sufficient sleep reduces the creation of antibodies produced by vaccination and thereby undermines their effectiveness, reduces the ability to clear glucose from the blood (the function of insulin), increases blood levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin, and decreases the quantity of a hormone called leptin which inhibits hunger by signaling the brain that there is no need to eat. The results are increased feelings of hunger which contribute to obesity.

Other research suggests that memory fixation occurs during sleep and that with sleep deprivation we are likely to form twice as many memories of negative life events as of positive events. This results in biased, and potentially depressing, memories of the day’s events.  Under certain circumstances, this can lead to major depression and may contribute to other psychiatric disorders as well.

An important finding for educators is that sleep after learning leads to the selective stabilization, strengthening, integration and analysis of new memories. In this way sleep controls what we remember and how we remember it. It also prevents the deterioration of memories over time and can actually improve them. It selectively strengthens memories that our brain deems valuable. What is valuable for the brain is information that can help enhance future performance.

Other lines of research are exploring the implications of the increase in inter-cellular space that occurs in the brain during sleep. This results in a better flow of cerebrospinal fluid between the brain and the spine. Experiments with mice demonstrate that betaamyloid (the precursor of the amyloid plaques found between neurons in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients) is cleared from the brain during sleep at twice the rate seen in awake animals.

Overall, the results of studies on the role of sleep in hormonal, immunological and memory functions suggest that a lack of sufficient sleep could result not only in being very tired, but sick, overweight, forgetful and very blue.